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House Democrat wants repeal of death penalty

Death Row inmates like cop-killer Manuel Valle would not face execution if a House Democrat's proposed bill was law.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, wants to repeal Florida's death penalty. Under her bill, HB 4051,the steepest penalty for people convicted of capital felonies would be life imprisonment without parole.

She filed the bill Thursday amid global concern over the execution of Georgia man Troy Davis, who maintained his innocence in the killing of an off-duty cop until the moment he was executed Wednesday.

"A sentence of life in prison without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light," she said in a statement. "That would increase faith and fairness in our justice system."

Executions are also expensive for taxpayers, she said. She cited a 2000 Palm Beach Post report that found (then) Florida spends $51 million each year to enforce the death penalty. Manuel Valle, she pointed out, has waited on Death Row for about 30 years. His execution is planned for Wednesday afternoon.

"With that $51 million we could put 850 law enforcement officers on Florida's streets, as well as adding more FDLE investigators and equipment to our arsenal against crime,” she said.

There is no companion legislation. Rehwinkel Vasilinda filed the same bill last year and it died in committee without any votes.

Some House Republicans last year wanted to go the other way on the death penalty. An unsuccessful proposal from House Speaker Dean Cannon would have split the Supreme Court into civil and criminal divisions in an effort to speed up death penalty cases.

On Tuesday, Cannon spokeswoman Katie Betta said while Cannon supports the death penalty, he has not yet read Rehwinkel Vasilinda's bill and  would not comment on it while it makes its way through committee.

"Speaker Cannon's personal views on the death penalty, or any other issue, have no bearing on his referral responsibility as Speaker. Speaker Cannon refers all bills to the appropriate committees or subcommittees, so that each bill has an opportunity to make its way through the committee process," Betta said.